Published: Oct 13, 2021
What should you do if you’re staring down the barrel of your first midterm in a week or two, and you haven’t prepared as much as you planned to by this point in the semester? Or what if you have, but you’re simply not sure how to maximize your time and effort in the final days leading up to the test? How should you spend your time now to maximize your chances of success?
You’ll find a lot of law school exam advice out there, and I’m sure you’re hearing it from your peers as well, but here’s what I can tell you based on my own experience on the high end of the curve at a T14 law school: The single best and most important method of studying for your exams, right now, is to take practice tests. There are other study tips out there, and those tips are valid—do the reading, actively participate in class discussion, and create your own outline—but those are things you should have been doing since classes began. At this point, it’s time to pivot your focus to exam day.
When it comes to taking practice tests, I promise nothing else comes close to delivering the same kind of performance boost relative to time spent. At this point in the game, you shouldn’t be rereading cases or memorizing your outlines. For one thing, many law school exams are take home or open book, so the best way to prepare for the test is by applying the material, not memorizing it. And if you don’t know the material well enough yet to apply it to an issue-spotting exam, it’s time to catch up to the curve.
Many (but not all) professors will do you the kindness of posting a few of their old exams, and if you’re lucky, they’ll even give you some model answers from the high end of those previous curves. Download every test they have available, and don’t be tempted by the model answers until you’ve tried the test yourself. You need to first see how well you know the material, and then use the model answers to fill in gaps. Ideally, you should also take practice tests under the exact conditions you’ll be taking the real test under. Block off time alone; enforce the time limit on yourself; and practice reading the prompts, spotting the issues, and writing out your answers.
I do recommend reading through the model answers, but only after you have taken the test yourself. I also recommend saving one practice test from each of your courses so that, a couple of weeks out, you can put yourself through a simulated “exam day.” Depending on how your exams are scheduled, you may have to take multiple finals in a single day. If you know that will be the case, practice doing exactly that. Just like training for a marathon, getting your reps in ahead of time will be the single most important thing you can do to get in shape for exam day .
If your own professor doesn’t have prior exams available, find one that does in the same subject. At many law schools, the library will have past exams on file, and even tests from another professor will be a valuable resource. If you can’t find any exams at your own school, try a different school (you can often find sample exams online), or at the very least, utilize the practice questions in your textbook or supplementary materials. The more removed you are, the less you can account for your individual instructor’s quirks, but any sample questions you can find will allow you to practice applying class material under testing conditions. Nothing else will lower your stress levels on exam day quite as much as (almost) literally having done it before.
We’ll be back with more tips as final exams creep closer, but in the meantime, we also recommend reading up on the six P’s of law school exam prep. Just know that if you can only do one thing to prepare, nothing else comes close to the utility of practice tests. Take as many as you can, and you’ll be sitting pretty come exam day.
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